'I can never be an attitude-throwing diva'

I can never be an attitude-throwing diva

With thought-provoking films like Pink and Mulk, Taapsee Pannu has carved a niche for herself. Khalid Mohamed in conversation with the versatile actress

She's in the swirl of a photoshoot at a Mumbai five-star hotel's poolside for Mission Mangal, which premiered last week. The paparazzi's clicking her solo, with co-stars in a group and then with a posse of bouncy children.
I'm thrown back. It's been years since I've sought out an actress for a Q-and-A. Taapsee Pannu, I've never met. To make up for my loss, I watch the clickfest, expect her to be exhausted. Fortuitously, she isn't.
Drawing up cane chairs under the gazebo of the gardens, dotted with sandstone sculptures, Taapsee, who has been wowing the audience unfailingly, laughs, "I can talk away from dawn to dusk," and offers me her trademark dazzler of a smile. Despite the swelling press corps on the scene, she's focused. What does her name mean, I start off. To that, she says, Taapsee means a female meditator, someone who can be calm in the face of a storm. Here, then, are excerpts of an exclusive conversation with WKND:

Is there any question you haven't been asked?
What? Okay, let me think. Nope, I've been asked every question imaginable - some really silly and some extremely incisive on subjects ranging from women's issues, my criterion for script selections to my box office track record and fashion sense.

I'd like to ask you about losing out on major awards. For instance, I think you should've been awarded for your performances in Pink (2016) and Mulk (2018).
Frankly, I have been disappointed, even deeply hurt, on being ignored at the awards, especially during the last three years. When Pink was released, maybe the people around me made me delusional... (by suggesting) that I would be acknowledged. Even while the film was being edited, its director Shoojit Sircar said, "You should get a new outfit designed for the award ceremonies." If I did get some trophies, they were of the side-bar, consolation sort.
Obviously, I'm not a pusher, a lobbyist, an expert at PR since I don't hang out in the right circles and maintain a diary of influential contacts. I've never had an agenda and never will. In any case, awards are all about getting a glittering star attendance that boost the TRP ratings of the shows broadcast on television.

Surely, you do attract TRP ratings.
I'd like to believe I do. I act in both the medium and the high-budget movies. I enjoy being in comedies like David Dhawan's Chashme Buddoor (2013) and Judwaa 2 (2017) as well as slice-of-life films like Anurag Kashyap's Manmarziyaan (2018) and (the upcoming) Saand Ki Aankh, equally. I'm not comparing myself with Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil, but these icons could achieve this feat. In my own way, I'm also trying to do a balancing act.

When did you first discover your acting instinct?
Nine years ago, after my first two films in the south, K. Raghavendra Rao's Jhummandi Naadam (Telugu) and Vetrimaran's Aadukalam (Tamil). There was so much love and appreciation that I understood acting was my calling. Or else I was just drifting, experimenting with life. I'd worked as a software professional and dabbled in modelling. Actually, I'm a pukka Delhi girl from Shakti Nagar. After entering Hindi films, I shifted to Mumbai, which absorbs a newcomer like a sponge. It can be chaotic, overwhelming, there's a space crunch and everyone's running at a wild speed. I observe people, I use my experiences while acting, like I'm observing you right now ­- you're cool and composed.

Am I? Not really. I'm doing an interview after a longish break. Right, so tell me, do you watch a lot of films? Have you been influenced by any actor's style?
During childhood, my parents didn't encourage me to see too many films. I've been catching up on this lacuna. The filmography of Meryl Streep is staggering, she's a goddess; lately, I loved her in the series Big Little Lies. To be honest, world cinema is not in my system. But after doing Badla, adapted from the Spanish film The Invisible Guest (2017), I've been seeing the thrillers by its writer and director Oriol Paulo. There are so many films that have been recommended to me by Anurag Kashyap. While shooting for Manmarziyaan, Abhishek Bachchan would ask me if I'd seen a particular classic or not, I'd say no, and he'd joke, "What? Then you have no right to be here."
While acting, I rely on spontaneity. I never rehearse and have never done more than three takes. But yes, after a director has discussed the script with me, I do a lot of reading up on the subject and psyche myself into believing that I'm the character whom I'm portraying. If there's an intense emotional scene, I ask to be left alone in a corner. the tears one sheds have to be real, which is why I don't use glycerine. Since I surrender myself to the role, there are after-effects, I feel all shaken up. It took me long to get out of the roles of Pink, Naam Shabana (2017), Mulk and Game Over (2019).

How do you handle the glamour quotient required of a heroine?
See, Katrina Kaif and Deepika Padukone are way more gorgeous than I can ever be. In fact, till the age of 25, I was positively ugly. Then, there was a natural changeover. At most, I'd consider myself pretty, an average Indian woman. I can't pose and preen. If I'm asked to do a photoshoot for a glamour magazine, I remain normal. I can never be an attitude-throwing diva. Come to think of it, I don't even look at the mirror before facing the camera, because that'd take attention away from my performance.

How come you did a brief role in Mission Mangal when your films have given you strong, solo roles?
It was a welcome change. I didn't have to be the main point of focus. Usually, I have to allot 50 days for a film; for Mission Mangal, it was just 15. All of us in the film are playing scientists at different levels. The footage doesn't count, one's conviction does.
You seem to be cool and professional. So, why were you upset when you were replaced in the remake of the vintage Pati Patni Aur Woh?
Because the producers didn't have the courage to tell me that themselves. I learnt about this from the newspapers. At the outset of my career, I was replaced many times. After an audition, a producer told me I couldn't act. Mercifully, I wasn't demoralised, and moved on.

You've been linked with Danish badminton player Mathias Boe.
I've never denied the rumours, neither have I gone into details about him. I know an actor's life comes under scrutiny. I'm fine with that. He's not an Indian, neither is he an actor nor a cricket star. He maintains a low profile; like me, he's calm in the face of any storm.  

More news from WKND
Telling stories that 'stick'


Telling stories that 'stick'

Everyone knows that oral and written traditions of storytelling are the most effective ways to pass on values. The modern marketplace is no different

WKND1 year ago